Morgan

morganMorgan is yet another movie which explores AI (artificial intelligence) and the its ramifications on society. It isn’t a particularly original film and seems to draw from other films such as Bladerunner, Hanna, Lucy, Splice and Ex Machina.

Kate Mara plays Lee Weathers, a corporate risk-management consultant sent to evaluate (and terminate if necessary) an artificial, humanoid being named Morgan (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Although only five years old, Morgan appears to be a young woman in her early 20s.

Weathers is dispatched by Corporate to evaluate Morgan after she attacks and brutally maims one of the scientists studying her. It is up to Weathers to evaluate the efficacy of Morgan and the L-9 program, which spawned her.

Morgan appears to be demure and shy but as the story develops she becomes increasingly aggressive.  Another vicious assault during an evaluation by a psychiatrist (played by Paul Giamatti) leads to a violent confrontation and a surprising revelation.

Morgan is entertaining despite being mostly derivative. The movie is well cast and the actors turn in good performances. Anyone paying attention to the clues the movie gives will see the twist coming a mile away.

Morgan does pose some interesting questions: what is it to be human? What rights (if any) do artificially-created humans have? If a corporation creates a humanoid being does the corporation own the being? If so, what is the extent of the corporation’s ownership? Should artificial humans even be created? The movie doesn’t really answer any of these, so those looking for answers will be disappointed.

Worth a look if you like sci fi movies which deal with artificial intelligence and the ramifications on society.

Skip it if you don’t like derivative movies.

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Morgan

-Steve

 

 

 

 

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Blair Witch

blair-witchBlair Witch is somewhat of a letdown: it is largely the same as its predecessor (The Blair Witch Project) but does get points for attempting to build on the mythology. The problem though is that Blair Witch doesn’t really answer any of the questions posed by the first movie. It seems as if it is a cash-grab trading on the Blair Witch name or an attempt to reboot the franchise. Unfortunately, neither one was successful.

For those not familiar with the basic story, Blair Witch is a found footage horror film in which several young people set out to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch, a local urban legend. This time around the group goes into the Maryland woods armed with video cameras, sound recording equipment, GPS devices, walkie talkies and even a drone. The group is lead by James (played by James Allen McCune) who is trying to find out what happened to his sister, Heather (who disappeared in The Blair Witch Project).

James and his group meet up with two locals, who promise to lead James through the woods to where the footage from the original movie was found. As in the first movie, it isn’t long before strange things start happening and everyone is at each others’ throats. The group gets lost and their technology fails. They hear strange noises and stick figures and piled-up rocks appear seemingly out of nowhere. Tension among the group members causes the two locals to split off and horrible, anomalous things happen to everyone involved.

One thing that Blair Witch does right is  capture the dire effects of being lost, isolated and helpless. This imparts a palpable sense of dread and when things go south for the group, it’s already too late for them. When things take a turn for the worse, there is no build up and no warning. One minute things are okay, the next there is no hope. The only way for the group to avoid their horrific situation was to have never put themselves in it in the first place.

There is a lot of shaky-cam footage in Blair Witch, which can be annoying and distracting. But in a movie like this it is very effective; the nausea induced strengthens the film. Adding to the tension are the many effective jump scares.

Overall, Blair Witch is not as good as The Blair Witch Project. The Blair Witch was never shown in The Blair Witch Project; it was left up to the viewer to interpret the events.  Blair Witch, on the other hand,  implies that the cause of the events may be indeed supernatural, maybe even caused by the Blair Witch, herself. It is interesting to compare and contrast the two films. But ultimately, the introduction of the new mythology only creates more questions than it answers.

Worth a look if you want to learn more of the mythology surrounding the Blair Witch.

Skip it if you think the original is perfect and/or dislike jump scares.

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Blair Witch

The Blair Witch Project

  • Steve

 

 

 

 

Don’t Breathe

mv5bzgi5ztu2m2ytzwy4mc00zdfhltliytitztk1njdln2nkmzg2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjy5odi4ndk-_v1_sy1000_sx625_al_Don’t Breathe is an unbearably tense horror movie/thriller. In most movies of this type, there are clearly defined rolls: there are “good guys” and “bad guys”; the “bad guy” usually slaughters all the “good guys.” The respective roles are not as clearly defined in this film, rather neither are totally good nor totally evil.  If anything, the “villain’ is sympathetic.

The basic story is very simple: a trio of petty thieves, lead by a clueless doofus, Money (played by Daniel Zovatto), break into houses to steal from the owners. Rocky (played by Jane Levy) helps Money and steals to save up so that she can escape her crack-whore mother and her mother’s abusive boyfriend. Alex (played by Dylan Minnette) is the trio’s scout; his father works for a security firm and Alex draws from the security firm’s client list to identify houses to break into. Alex borrows house keys to make entry easier. Alex is in love with Rocky, even though she is Money’s girlfriend.

The trio finds an irresistible target: a blind Gulf War veteran (played by Stephen Lang) who apparently has just come into a great deal of money. He lives in a very bad section of town, so there no cops around. They think it will be easy to break into his house and steal from him.

Things are not what they seem on the surface, and the blind vet is more than capable of taking care of himself. In fact, he is hiding a horrific secret that he is willing to kill for. After he traps the trio in the house, a cat and mouse game ensues with deadly consequences. One effective series of shots occurs after the blind man turns off the lights and the trapped would-be thieves stumble around in the dark trying to escape him. It looks like scenes were shot with night-vision goggles and convey very effectively the world that the blind man lives in.

Although there is some violence, Don’t Breathe depends more on the unbearable tension created rather than cheap jump scares. It could be said that the blind vet is only protecting himself when he kills.

Worth a look if you like horror movies with ambiguous characters.

Skip it if unbearable tension gets to you.

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Don’t Breathe

-Steve

 

 

 

 

10 Cloverfield Lane

MV5BMjEzMjczOTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTUwMjI3NzE@._V1_SX675_CR0,0,675,999_AL_10 Cloverfield Lane starts with a great setup: a woman , Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) abruptly leaves her boyfriend. As she is driving away she gets into a traffic accident. She wakes up in a windowless room with an IV drip in her arm and is handcuffed to the wall. Her captor, Howard (played by John Goodman) informs her that she is in an underground bunker and that he saved her from certain death as the above world is now poisoned due to an unspecified apocalyptic attack. Also in he bunker is a young man, Emmett (played by John Gallagher, Jr. ) At first it seems as though Howard has both of his captives’ best interests in mind, but it quickly be comes apparent that his actions indicate otherwise. This tension between what Howard says and what he does drives the story and creates a palpable sense of foreboding.

The strength of the film is that the film makers never really let the audience know what is actually happening until the very end. Howard is clearly unhinged, but is he wrong about his conspiracy theories? Some of what he says seems to be somewhat consistent with the truth but his penchant for severe overreactions makes him truly frightening; he carries a holstered revolver on his hip, despite the fact that neither Michelle nor Emmett are a physical threat to him. His erratic behavior makes him unreliable, but doesn’t necessarily make him wrong. John Goodman is a standout in his role in this film, turning in a chilling but nuanced performance.

Winstead portrays Michelle as a survivor: smart and resourceful. It’s nice to see a female character portrayed in this way rather as some shrinking violet who needs a man to save her. Michelle soon realizes that staying with Howard might be much more dangerous than anything she might face outside the bunker. She formulates a plan to escape which results in unintended, deadly consequences.

It isn’t until the last 10 or 15 minutes that the film makers let the audience in on what is really happening. At this point there is a huge relief of tension but overall there is no real resolution.

This film does not fit neatly into any one category. It is part psychological thriller, part monster movie, part horror film, and part kidnap movie. All these elements are combined to good effect, making it one of the better films which has come out this year.

Worth a look if you like taut, genre-defying psychological thrillers.

Skip it if disaster films set in bunkers make you claustrophobic.

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10 Cloverfield Lane

  • Steve

The Boy

theboyThe Boy is an unsettling horror flick, using the well-worn device of a doll which may or may not be alive.

Lauren Cohan (of the Walking Dead) stars as Greta, a woman with a dark secret hoping to escape her past. She gains employment in England as a nanny for the Heelshires, whom have hired her to look after their “son,” Brahms. As it turns out Brahms is a creepy life-size doll. At first Greta chuckles at the idea, but soon realizes that there is nothing humorous about her situation. Especially since the Heelshires treat the doll as a real boy.

Soon after Greta gets settled in, the Heelshires go on vacation, leaving her alone in the house to take care of Brahms with a set of rules to follow. At first Greta ignores the rules and odd things start to happen: her clothing disappears, Brahms appears to have moved of his own volition. Greta soon comes to understand that there is more to Brahms than meets the eye. She starts “caring ” for him by following the rules to the letter.

The dark secret from Greta’s past surfaces, forcing a startling conclusion with deadly consequences.

The Boy is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, and for some thematic material. The violence is fairly mild, all things considered. The movie relies more on the creep factor than horrific, bloody violence to create a palpable sense of dread. While the movies does rely on the animated doll horror trope, the conclusion took me by surprise. Of course, as with most movies of this sort, the ending leaves room to make The Boy 2.

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The Boy

Worth a look if you like horror or unsettling movies.

Skip it if animated dolls give you the heebie jeebies.

-Steve

Under the Skin

MV5BMTU1MDEwMDg4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTk3NTcxMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Under the Skin is a creepy, atmospheric film starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman who cruises around Scotland looking for single, lonely men to seduce, ultimately luring them to their demise.

It’s hard to discuss this film without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that the overall tone of this film is exceedingly unsettling. Director Jonathan Glazer slowly builds tension: each time a man is lured to his death, we see a bit more information as to what is actually happening. The more we see, the worse it gets.

We see Johansson’s character coming to terms with what she truly is, and what she is doing, although the “why” is never fully explained.

A few scenes are downright chilling: Johansson’s character physically overcoming an exhausted swimmer on the beach; the truly horrifying end scene. Scenes where men are lured to their demise are used to horrifying effect.

The cinematography uses drizzly Scotland to good effect: the colors are muted which adds to the tension of the movie. The grey skies add to the mounting dread.

This film stuck with me long after I finished viewing it.

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Under the Skin

Worth a look if you like creepy, unsettling films.

Skip it if dread is not your thing.

-steve